Addison teachers planning rally to build support in stalled contract talks
Teachers in Addison Elementary District 4 plan to rally Tuesday to garner support and push the school board to return to the bargaining table as the clock ticks toward a possible strike next week.
The rally comes as the teachers union and school board remain far apart on salaries and health insurance after months of negotiations failed to produce a new contract in the district that serves roughly 4,000 students.
Bridget Shanahan, spokeswoman for the Illinois Education Association, which represents the Addison Teachers' Association, said teachers will gather with community members and current and former students at 6 p.m. Oct. 22 in the parking lot of Venuti's Italian Restaurant, 2251 W. Lake St., to urge board members to resume talks.
"We can't get a deal if they won't negotiate with us," she said Thursday.
The two sides began talks in February and brought in a federal mediator in June. They last met on Oct. 7 and the union has since filed an intent to strike notice that would allow teachers to walk off the job Thursday, Oct. 24.
Both sides say they want to return to the bargaining table, but there's a catch.
The school board has declared an impasse in the talks. And while it wants to resume negotiations, "it is not willing to break the impasse unless the union makes a substantive offer," Superintendent John Langton said Thursday.
The union's last offer on Oct. 7 fell short of that goal, he said.
"The board asked them to return with a substantive offer, but they have not," he said. "I believe both sides are interested in returning to the table, but it would require the union to bring a substantive offer back."
Shanahan said the union believes it met that burden.
"The board cannot mandate what we offer; that's not how negotiations work," she said Thursday. "They cannot dictate what we offer. We made substantial movement in our most recent offer and now the ball is in their court. We don't believe there is a lawful impasse at this point and we are still ready and willing to come back to the table."
If the two sides do not agree on a new pact, the board's declaration of an impasse could allow it to impose its "latest and best" offer.
The school board is offering a five-year contract that guarantees 3% annual raises in each year of the pact.
Based on its proposal posted on the state's Educational Labor Relations Board website, the union is seeking raises of 5.25% for this school year, followed by annual increases of 5%, 4.75%, 4.25% and 4.25%.
The union represents 327 members, including teachers, speech pathologists, media specialists, social workers and psychologists who work in seven elementary schools, an early learning center and a junior high. They are working this school year under the terms of a contract that expired June 30.
Langton on Thursday praised the work of the district's staff but said the union is misrepresenting two major aspects of the negotiations: teacher retention and the district's reserves.
Union leaders say the district must increase pay to keep teachers from leaving and to compete with surrounding districts. They say the district has lost about 23 teachers a year for each of the past five.
However, Langton said turnover is a fact of life in a district with more than 500 total employees. And while some teachers may leave for better salaries, the bulk of the turnover stems from retirements, health issues, people pursuing new positions and even some who go into private practice.
He said the district's retention rate tracks closely with that of 12 nearby elementary districts and the state as a whole. Last year, for example, District 4 retained 84.2% of its staff compared to an 85.2% retention rate for the state and those neighboring districts, he said.
The union also says the district can pay teachers more because it maintains the highest educational fund surplus of any elementary district in DuPage County.
Langton said most districts try to maintain reserves of three to six months of expenses, which allows them to pay their bills in the months leading up to property tax disbursements.
But he said the District 4 board agreed four years ago to boost that fund balance closer to 12 months to pay for what originally was expected to be a five-year capital improvement plan that now is likely to cover seven years.
He said the district has set aside $35 million to repair and renovate its schools -- most of which were built from the 1950s to the 1970s and need significant fixes. The fund balance, he said, will allow the district to make the repairs without asking taxpayers for more money.